Staying in the family: Bogue Inlet Pier off the market, future plans include tech upgrades and a partial rebuild
The man who has been involved in running a business popular with both eastern North Carolina locals and the tourists that come to visit Emerald Isle has decided not to sell after all.
Mike Stanley’s family bought the Bogue Inlet Pierin 1971, and he began working there in 1972 – the day after he graduated from high school. In 1997, he purchased the pier from his mom.
Stanley listed it for sale in July 2020, saying he wouldn’t take any less than $18 million, and a year ago it looked like it had a buyer.
“We did have a contract with a company, with a with a group, and ultimately that didn't work, so they decided they didn't want it,” he said, “There's a lot of reasons. The economy scares a lot of people, I guess.”
And shortly after the deal failed, Stanley said he was riding his bike, scouting for parking sports for customers, when he knew what he wanted to do.
“The cars were lined up all the way to Emerald Drive, all the way down the street. I got down there and I turned and I looked to the west on Emerald Drive and as far as I could see was cars, stopped, and I knew right then and there they were coming to see me, and I knew right then and there it was time to rethink my whole picture.,” Stanley said.
It was no small decision. He says the COVID-19 lockdown really ramped things up at Emerald Isle Beach.
“With people coming here, living, not having to work in their offices, they're coming here and they're living here, they're staying here. So, you know, the locals are pretty much a normal thing at this point, but it's everyone else coming from, you know, Jacksonville, Greenville, Raleigh, Virginia, up north and we have a lot of people coming here now,” Stanley said, “It's just so different.”
Different because there have been about three times the number of visitors than there were before the pandemic. Stanley said that if crowds aren’t your thing, try not to visit on the weekend.
“I suggest anyone to come down, try to come down during the week because it is quieter and whole lot more pleasant. Unless you like the big crowds, if you like big crowds, the weekend’s the time to come. But it's not just here, it's everywhere. It's everywhere on the coast. We're seeing such an influx of people, and that's what happens when you become the number one beach,” he said.
With the business off the market, he says they are getting ready to replace yet another section of the pier.
“We're getting ready to do one last section. It's about 230 feet. It starts right at the water's edge and goes out and beyond that, we replaced it in Florence, which was 2018. Beyond that was the rest of the end of the pier that was in 2012. And this area here from the water’s edge all the way to the pier house, we rebuilt this and we completely we tore it completely out. There was no pier here. It looked really funny looking down the beach was no pier. But we tore all this out and we rebuilt it all back in 2017, so 2017, 2018 and then 2012 and then this last section, this last quarter, will be this this winter.”
Another project on the to-do list now that they’ve decided to keep the pier in the family may help him and his wife get a bit more down time.
“We've been kicking the can down the road in technology simply because we had it on the market and, you know, you don't go out and invest heavily in things that you're not going to see any return on. And that's what's happened,” Stanley explained. “But now that we're clear sighted and we realize that we're going to keep it, we will be investing in those technological things. We're going to put in automated parking. That's coming.”
Even with all of the work it takes to maintain the pier, run the tackle shop, and work the parking lot, Stanley said he’s come to realize that selling the business he’s been involved in for all of his adult life wouldn’t have led to a life of leisure for him.
"There's not going to be any stopping. If I sold this place, we wouldn't stop. We wouldn’t slow down. Not going to happen,” he said, “I mean, I think and I think people that are in my age group, I'm almost 70 now, and I don't see it any different than I was at 40. I can't bend over as easily or pick up things as easily, but overall, our drive and determination hasn't slowed at all. So, that’s kind of a feather in the cap and I think it keeps you young and keeps you moving. I think everyone our age really needs to pick up and think about that. Retirement is an illusion. It's a terrible illusion.”
Annette asked, “It's probably not terrible to walk out to this being your office every day?”
“We do have our perks,” he answered, “But that's like anywhere else. It's a job. It's just like going to downtown Raleigh to the office here, and it's the same thing here. We just have a fun office and it all comes together in a ball and basically everyone sees it as beautiful and I see it as ‘well, that's broken. This needs to be fixed. I got to do that.’ So, I have mixed emotions about that question.”
The fishing varies by season, and with the heat wave that has gripped eastern North Carolina for several weeks Stanley said right now they’re pulling in the species you might expect.
“This time of year, being this is the boiling point, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel -- landing one or two kings a week right now, and that doesn't sound like a lot, but for the heat of summer it's not too bad -- blue fish, sheepshead, Pompano, sea mullet.
The pier has a blanket fishing license, so there is no need to purchase one, and Stanley said the fishing permit fee, “Lasts until 6:00 every morning. It's a 24-hour pass if you buy it at 6:00 in the morning and I think it's very reasonable, it's a lot of fun. We have so many people come out, and kids especially love it. If they’re out there just catching pinfish, it's the best day ever.”
Rods and reels can also be rented on site.
During peak times, there is a fee for parking, but for those that don’t fish the pier is open to people who just want to take a stroll and listen to the surf – at no cost … after a lesson learned the hard way.
“Back in 1972, we put in a spectator fee,” he said, “The fishing passes were a dollar and a half back – they're $15 now. They were a dollar and a half back then and the spectator fee was $0.25. Well, if you wanted to walk on the pier, you had to pay $0.25, we give you a ticket and then you would come back in if you decide to fish, we would take that $0.25 off of your $1.50. Well, we like to get run out of town on that one. It was the weirdest, craziest thing, and I was behind the counter all the time, and all I did was just listen to it, listen to it, listen to it. I told my uncle one day, I said, ‘Uncle Melman, if I ever run this place, I'll never charge to go out on the fishing pier.’ And to this day I haven't charged to go out on the fishing pier yet.”
The pier is one of only two left on the Crystal Coast. The other is the Oceanana in Atlantic Beach.